My Jakarta: Eko Sethiono, Newspaper Sculptor
PuteraSculptures are often made with natural materials like stone, wax and wood. But what about using a copy of the Jakarta Globe?
Eko Sethiono, a 52-year-old shop owner, talks to My Jakarta about his unusual sculpting material.
First of all, do you have a background in art?
No, I run a technical equipment shop [laughs]. When I was a kid, I used to express myself by drawing. Now I do it by sculpting and painting paper.
I’ve found that what I learned about the structure of the human face through drawing can be applied in making precise 3-D sculptures out of newspaper.
How did you discover this new method of sculpting?
Back in 2008, I joined a course at my church. They invited a speaker every week and gave them a souvenir for their trouble. The souvenirs were usually books or religious paraphernalia. I wondered why they couldn’t give them something more unique than that, something special that could not be bought at any store. So out of curiosity, I gave newspaper sculpture a try, and it was a success.
So how does it work?
My basic materials are newspaper and glue. For each sculpture, I usually need around eight daily newspapers. First, I make a draft of the thing I want to sculpt, and memorize the form. Then I cut, roll and squeeze the newspaper into the shape I want and cover it with glue to harden it. To make some of my sculptures look more wood-like, I lacquer them with a varnish.
To make a human figure, I start with the body, then work out to the head, arms, legs and accessories. When all the pieces are ready, all I have to do is stick them all together.
How long does it take to make each sculpture?
It really depends on my mood. If I’m in the zone, then I can finish a sculpture in one day. If I’m not really in the mood for it, then the sculpture could take weeks to finish [laughs]. At one time I was so into my sculptures that my wife complained I couldn’t think about anything else.
Do you only make sculptures in one color?
No, I make several colorful sculptures, too. To add color, I print colored paper from the computer. With the computer, I can easily recognize the color I want, whether it’s the color of human skin, or a trademark and so on. When it’s ready, I simply cut the paper and stick it onto my sculpture, piece by piece.
What kind of figures do you sculpt?
I often make Christian figures, like Jesus Christ, Mary or Joseph. As for objects, I have made trishaws, flowers, bells, Vespas and traditional pinisi sailing boats.
What encourages you to make a new sculpture? Do people ever request certain figures?
I sculpt when I want to. Once I took an order from a friend who wanted a gift for his boss overseas. I made a sculpture about 40 centimeters high of a tower with a money bag on top of it. He loved it. But I rarely take orders from anyone else. If someone asks me to make a sculpture for them, then I’ll observe that person first. I usually want to find out if they are capable of taking care of things or not. I don’t want my creations to go to waste. That would be heart-breaking for me. My biggest sense of achievement is when I give someone one of my creations and he or she loves it. I certainly wouldn’t sell them to just anybody.
What is the most difficult thing to sculpt?
Definitely a woman’s face. I have no idea why, but I can only make men’s faces. I’ve tried making a woman’s face, like when I tried making a sculpture of Mary, but it didn’t turn out so well. Maybe the rough texture of newspaper is not suitable for a stereotypical woman’s face, which is soft and smooth. But I hope to master it one day.
Why don’t you turn your hobby into a business?
I never thought of it. I guess I don’t want to change the purpose of my creations. Besides, I think my artwork is still not good enough, even though people tell me it’s great. Plus, I know the difference between giving a sculpture as a gift, not as a transaction: appreciation. People appreciate gifts so much more. If it’s something you just buy, there is less of a sense of ownership.
Is there a famous sculpter you look up to?
No, I just surf the Internet and look for good sculptures to inspire me. I think it is not the person behind the artwork who is important, but the beauty of the creation itself.
Eko Sethiono was talking to Kevin Sanly